San Mateo, Calif. — Citing studies indicating that nearly 33% of the 47 million uninsured in America are eligible for government-sponsored health insurance but aren't signed up, the Foundation for Health Coverage Education (FHCE) has captured, on a single Web site database, more than 144 government-sponsored programs to help people in need of health coverage.

Combined with the service capabilities of the nonprofit's 24/7 live U.S. Uninsured Help Line, the goal is to add Internet support in an effort to reduce the bureaucratic steps needed to apply for government-paid health coverage, according to the San Mateo, Calif.-based organization. The move to an Internet-based application process is an effort to help solve a serious problem that experts believe factors into why such a high percentage of the country's uninsured are not availing themselves of the current government assistance programs.

"In Los Angeles County, for example, it usually requires two scheduled appointments at a social services agency, and the time and ability of an applicant to answer a 100-question document as a first step to getting enrolled in California's Medi-Cal program," says Phil Lebherz, founder and executive director of FHCE. "This arduous process in addition to possible transportation issues and literacy challenges keep thousands of people from enrolling."

Web site visitors can first take the simple 5-Question Eligibility Quiz online or phone the U.S. Uninsured Help Line. The U.S. Uninsured Help Line, initially launched in 2006, is intended to help the estimated 6.8 million uninsured Californians get coverage.

The help line may be frequented more if legislation that will require Californians to obtain health insurance is passed. Many states have tried to implement mandatory health insurance initiatives. Massachusetts succeeded in April 2006. California is trying again.

ABX1 1, backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, requires that consumers prove they have private health insurance but does not limit what insurers can charge for coverage. The bill is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Health Committee on Jan. 23, 2008.

Controversy has surrounded this bill. On Jan. 16, 2008, Speaker Fabian Nunez directed the California Highway Patrol to prevent an uninsured patient who traveled 3,000 miles to speak out against mandatory insurance from telling his story in the Capitol rotunda Wednesday, according to Santa Monica, Calif.-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).

Ron Norton, a Massachusetts consumer who cannot afford to buy health insurance under his home-state law requiring all residents to purchase private insurance policies or face financial penalties, flew out for a hearing that was cancelled, then was prevented by Nunez from speaking inside the Capitol to press, according to FTCR. Consumer advocates accompanying Norton, and releasing poll results critical of Nunez's mandatory health purchase plan, were told they were being reported for a misdemeanor for talking to the press inside the Capitol.

CHP officers said they had been notified of the news conference, and directed to act by the Speaker's office.

Sources: The Foundation for Health Coverage Education, The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights

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